The Ballad of Matthew’s Begats

The Gospel Reading for the Sunday before the Nativity of Christ (which will be observed on December 22, O. S., two Sundays from now) is taken from St Matthew 1:1-25, and includes the Evangelist’s account of the Lord’s genealogy. As a service to the terrified clergy who will have to read this Gospel on that day, as well as to others who may be likewise bewildered by its many strange and unpronounceable names, I offer as a pronunciation guide of sorts the following instructional video featuring Andrew Peterson‘s lovely song Matthew’s Begats, which is based on the Matthean genealogy.

It should be noted that Peterson’s lyrics (following the lead of the Good News Bible and the New Living Translation) substitutes “Jehoiachin” for “Jeconiah,” the form of the name actually given in St Matthew 1:11-12. Eugene Nida explains,

“Strange proper names . . . pose problems for both readers and translators, especially when the same object or person may be referred to by more than one name. . . . [T]he ordinary reader would not know that the names ‘Jeconiah’ (Jer. 24:1) and ‘Coniah’ (Jer. 37:1) are variations on the name of the king of Judah usually called ‘Jehoiachin.’ . . . As indicated in the preface of the Good News Bible, its translators have chosen to use consistently that form of a particular name which is most widely used and known.”1

Also, following all major translations since the English Revised Version of 1881, Peterson’s lyrics give the names in the genealogy as though transliterated directly from Hebrew. The King James Version and Douay-Rheims Bible alone transliterate the names according to what the Greek text has. The chief differences are: “Perez” for “Phares” (v. 3); “Rehoboam” for “Roboam” (v. 7); “Jehoshaphat” for “Josaphat” (v. 8); and “Shealtiel” for “Salathiel” (v. 12). Sometimes “Ram” is given for “Aram” in vv. 3-4.

As for “Mary, Mother of Christ” at the end of the song, while I would have preferred “Mary, Mother of Jesus the Christ” (which would more closely parallel v. 16), I’m sure that Mr Peterson did this quite innocently and in no way wishes to advance an heretical Nestorian Christology!

[H/T: Justin Taylor, whose post featuring this live version of Matthew’s Begats prompted me to look for the instructional video I knew someone had to have put together!]



1 Eugene A. Nida, Good News for Everyone: How to Use the Good News Bible (Waco: Word, 1997), pages 83-84.


Sundays with Silva: On the Study of Greek

It surely no secret to anyone who has been reading this blog for more than two minutes that one of its chief purposes is to spread the knowledge of the infallibility of Moisés Silva throughout the land. I have therefore decided to institute a new occasional feature like unto the Saturday à Machen, and dedicated to share with you, my genteel gazelles, choice quotations from Silva’s admirable writings for your edification.

Our Silvanic golden nugget for today is buried in a footnote, but deserves wider exposure:

“Ideally, students learning biblical Greek should do so only within the context of learning Hellenistic Greek generally (with at least a smattering of the late classical period). Of course, such a program would easily require a tripling of the time and effort nowadays devoted to the subject, and it would be virtually impossible to persuade students (or even faculty and administrators) that one needs to ‘waste time’ with Plato and Polybius and Plutarch in order to understand the language of Paul. But can one imagine a person with two years of college French daring to translate (or write an exegetical commentary on) the plays of Molière?”

Moisés Silva, “Are Translators Traitors? Some Personal Reflections,” in Glen G. Scorgie et al. (eds.), The Challenge of Bible Translation: Communicating God’s Word to the World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), page 49 n. 12.

Having presciently heeded Silva’s advice on this matter, I can only say that I am all the richer for having spent a few years pursuing the study of late Classical and Hellenistic Greek, and I encourage all who have the opportunity to do so to take advantage of it. Sometimes I have the feeling that we haven’t really overcome Hermann Cremer’s notion that the Greek of the New Testament is some kind of “Holy Ghost language.” The difference is that, instead of saying that the Holy Spirit created a theretofore unattested special language for revelatory purposes, some are now saying that the Holy Spirit doggedly stuck to a non-literary variety of the language for revelatory purposes. The first error was dispelled by the pioneering work on papyri and inscriptions by the likes of Deissmann, Grenfell, and Hunt; the second will only be laid to rest by increased exposure to Greek literature contemporary to the New Testament.

[For other wondrous Silvanic quotations, see here, here, here, here, and here; and for some links of articles by Silva conveniently available online, see here.]

On Englishing the Bible of the Orthodox Church: An Update

A year ago I wrote about two noteworthy projects whose goal is to translate into English the Bible of the Orthodox Church: Michael Asser’s KJV-LXX Psalter and Fr Laurent Cleenewerck’s Greek / Eastern Orthodox Bible. Last April I was pleased to announce the long-awaited publication of Mr Asser’s excellent Psalter in a handsome and sturdy edition designed to withstand many years of liturgical and devotional use. Now I am equally pleased to report that a corrected edition of the EOB’s New Testament has been released, and is available for download (and purchase) in anticipation of the publication of the final edition in November 2009; and that, further, the entire Old Testament is also slated to appear by the end of next year. The remarkable importance of the upcoming publication of the EOB can hardly be overstated: this is, quite simply, the very first time in which the entire text of the Church’s Bible will appear in English translation. As I noted in my earlier post, the EOB New Testament

” [….] is laudably based on the 1904 Patriarchal Greek text, which is, for all practical purposes, the only authoritative Orthodox edition of the ecclesiastical text of the New Testament. Divergences from the modern critical text of the New Testament (NA/UBS) are marked by footnotes, as are textual variants from patristic sources […] [T]he EOB Old Testament will be a (one hopes extensive) revision of Brenton’s translation of the Septuagint [….].”

Needless to say, this is an enormous improvement upon other editions currently available. As is well known, the Orthodox Study Bible simply prints the text of the NKJV New Testament unchanged, and the notion that its Old Testament is an actual translation of the Septuagint is, at best, highly debatable. It is not, then, the Church’s Bible strictly speaking. On the other hand, the 2-volume Orthodox New Testament published by Holy Apostles’ Convent, though based on the 1904 Patriarchal New Testament, and invaluable though it is on account of its superb system of patristic annotations, fails to be actually English: its “translation” of the Biblical text is disastrous (not to say ludicrous), constantly given as it is to simple transliteration, or else to fallacious overinterpretation of the worst kind. And, in any event, it is a translation of the New Testament alone. So again, the EOB will be the very first English translation of the Bible of the Orthodox Church, and from the look of it, a fine one indeed.

Now, surely on account of the great benefit that is to be visited upon us all, you are wondering if there is anything you can do to bring this worthy project to fruition in a timely fashion. And as a matter of fact, there is: Fr Laurent is looking for proofreaders that will help him comb through the entire translation of the Old and New Testaments before the final release in late 2009. If you have the time and the competencies to engage in this task, please get in touch with Fr Laurent to offer your assistance. Christopher Orr has posted his contact information, along with further information on the soon-to-be-released EOB.

[For more on the subject Church’s text of the Holy Scriptures and its importance, see my earlier posts: On Translating the Church’s (and No Other) Bible and On the Necessity of Seriously and Critically Engaging Matters of Text and Translation.]

I Shall Not Want

The young man in the back seat, all of twenty, clearly was not at a loss for words: he spoke of his new job, of his recent purchases, of his plans, of his fiancée and unborn baby, of the bad situation at home, of the music on the radio. As we drove through places where one shouldn’t wander after dark, we came to a full stop behind a church busone of those, you know, with a Bible verse printed on the back door. It read:

“The Lord is my Shephard,
I Shall Not Want” (Ps. 23:1)

I noted the misspelling with amusement, and quickly redirected my attention to the stream of words coming from the back seat. The Scriptural quote did not fail to catch the young man’s attention, however, though for an altogether different reason.

He blurted out, “Now, what kind of church is that?” Never one to miss a chance to make a smart comment, I quipped, “Well, apparently one that quotes the Bible!” After a brief (and humorous) digression brought on by my comment, the young man returned to the Scriptural quote. “I shall not want,” he repeated. “What is that supposed to mean? Of course I want!”

My first thought was to perhaps explain to him that the passage doesn’t mean that one will not want things, and that, as I once suggested here, the phrase in question might be more idiomatically rendered as “I will lack nothing.” But then it hit me: this was no mere misunderstanding of an older translation. Of course he wants: he wants domestic peace, a bed on which to sleep, a fair shot at success in spite of a minor criminal record. He wants these things because he lacks them. And while “I will lack nothing” would undoubtedly elucidate the actual meaning of “I shall not want,” to him, the former would ring every bit as untrue as the latter.

I was then reminded of the searing words of the great Spanish biblical scholar Luis Alonso-Schökel:

“People ask us for bread, and we offer them a handful of hypotheses about a verse from St John chapter 6; they question us about God, and we offer them three theories about the literary genre of a Psalm; they thirst after righteousness, and we put before them an etymological disquisition on the root sedaqa…”1

And so, at a loss for words, I said nothing.



1 Quoted in José Martínez, Hermenéutica bíblica (Terrassa: CLIE, 1984), pages 541-542; my translation.

An Announcement that Will Shake Biblioblogdom to Its Very Foundations

No, I’m not talking about the fact that Irreverend Mr Ker has named me one of the most dangerous Bible bloggers of 2008—though, as I noted there, I am very pleased that the very great dangers I pose to biblioblogging civilization have been recognized at long last. Nor am I talking about the auspicious reappearance of the organigram of the World Wide Blogging Syndicate, which proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jim West is the Boss Tweed of Biblioblogdom. What is it, then? Well, my gentle snowflakes, brace yourselves. I hereby announce my decision to switch to WordPress effective on the implementation of threaded comments in that blogging platform.

It is well known, of course, that I have been greatly tempted to do this in the past, but my resistance to change is such that I simply could not bring myself to do it in spite of the constant pleas of many. Among the chief moaners advocates of such a change are Nick Norelli and David Ker. The Irreverend Mr Ker has often accused me of anti-Third World bias pointed out that the Blogger platform is more difficult to access from underdeveloped countries, for which observation I’m very thankful. And I likewise remain deeply grateful to Nick, who routinely threw a hissy fit suspended his usual embargo on Blogger blogs to comment here. His whining kindness has paid off handsomely in the end.

I must emphasize, however, that this decision is contingent on the implementation of threaded comments on WordPress. I cannot move for any less than that. When the time is fulfilled, then, I will make a final announcement here, and direct all to The Voice of Stefan‘s new address so that those so inclined may update their bookmarks and feed aggregators.

Translation Bits: On Whether the Good News Bible Is a Faithful Translation

Nathan Eshelman, the veteran author of Presbyterian Thoughts, has posted an interesting (and brief) example that illustrates not only how the oft-encountered desire for strictly “literal” translations of the Bible is not only misguided, but in fact based on a deep misunderstanding of the way languages work. But must the text still be translated “word for word” with a view to readability, as he avers? Since Nathan (also a friend and former co-worker) will soon be ordained to the ministry of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, I thought I’d reproduce here some related and relevant information reported by Eugene Nida in his book introducing the Good News Bible:

“The Reformed Presbyterian Church appointed a commission to look into some of the queries and objections which had been voiced by certain members concerning this version. The report of this commission assured the constituency that Today’s English Version ‘fulfills the requirements of the Westminster Confession of Faith,’ and went on to say, ‘it is erroneous to suppose that a translation must slavishly conform to the syntax, metaphors and idioms of the Biblical text in order to be judged a faithful translation. . . . Today’s English Version renders doctrinally significant passages with greater clarity and in some instances with greater faithfulness to the meaning of the Greek text than does the time-honored King James Version'” (Eugene A. Nida, Good News for Everyone: How to Use the Good News Bible [Waco: Word, 1997], page 115).

Sadly, Nida provides no footnote to these statements; but given that the book was published in 1977 and that Good News for Modern Man was first published in 1966, the Reformed Presbyterian report must have appeared sometime during that 11-year window. Also, it would be interesting to see whether this report covers the entire Bible (only published in 1976) or else the New Testament alone, and whether the endorsement is as unreserved as Nida’s excerpt suggests. I am fairly certain that finding this report would be well beyond my research capabilities, but perhaps Nathan, who is a master of all things Reformed Presbyterian, could help in that department!

Incidentally, this popular-level book by Nida is chock-full of interesting tidbits about translation theory and practice, some of which one can readily agree with, and some where one finds it harder to follow Nida where he would lead. As I find the time, I will post and discuss several examples from either type of statement.

Two Blogs of Note

It is my distinct privilege to mention here two noteworthy blogs:

1) My good friend Aaron Taylor, who (in accordance with the Irreverend Mr Ker’s pathology of the long slide down the long tail) has done his time reading and commenting on blogs, has at long last decided to stake a claim on a corner of the blogosphere which he has named Logismoi. Aaron is an Orthodox Christian resident in Oklahoma, and is currently working on his master’s thesis in Moral Theology for the Unversity of Thessaloniki. He has been posting rather regularly over the past couple of weeks; of particular interest to my inner Classicist are his posts on “lovecraft” in Catullus and St Pachomius the Great. I look forward to many more such posts, and I enthusiastically recommend his blog to all.

2) I recently learned that my former stomping grounds, Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has launched a blog entitled BBH Church Connection. The main writer for the blog is my dear friend and former co-worker Louis McBride, whose handsome likeness is prominently diplayed on the blog’s sidebar. Louis, one of the coolest people alive, holds an MA in Church History from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The blog features news about titles and authors accross the theological publishing spectrum, but naturally with an emphasis on Baker new releases; also featured are news of special sales at Baker Book House, one of the finest theological bookstores in the country. It is hoped that, in the future, features such as author interviews and book reviews will be also made available on the blog. And if you enjoy reading the Voice of Stefan, be sure to add the BBH Church Connection blog to your feed aggregator, as I will be contributing to that blog from time to time!

And before I forget, I should like to publicly thank Louis for his kind gift of a copy of Chrys Caragounis’ The Development of Greek and the New Testament, which I have been reading with a great deal of (annoyance and) interest.

Well, folks, enjoy these fine new blogs!

Eschatology Week: Amazing Vatican Prophecies!

Yes, that’s right: Eschatology Week at The Voice of Stefan goes on unabated in spite of constant interruptions of internet service, and now the utter lack of the same. This does, however, pose a difficult problem. While earlier I had noted that a non-literal hermeneutic should be applied to the term “week,” we have now moved beyond simple non-literal interpretation into a thornier question: How do we make sense of the obvious, and indeed large, gaps in the fulfillment of the “Eschatology Week” event? It is here that we must call to mind one of the finer points in the interpretation of prophecy: telescoping. Sometimes Old Testament prophetic literature will combine in a single oracle or vision events whose respective fulfillments may be separated by hundreds or even thousands of years (cf. Isaiah 61:1-2 as related to the first and second Comings of Christ [cp. St Luke 4:16-21]; and the delayed fulfillment of the 70th week in Daniel 9:24-27). In like manner also, while we rightly speak of “Eschatology Week” as a single whole, the appearance of its various components is, in fact, separated by a number of chronological gaps. This doesn’t mean, however, that “Eschatology Week” is any less of a unit than Daniel’s “70 Weeks.”

The above points having been firmly and indisputably established, we may now proceed to the actual subject of this post. During my internetless evenings, I have started to reacquaint myself with several books in my library with which, due to their being stored for many long years, I am no longer as familiar as I once was. Once such is the Papal church’s always interesting Codex Iuris Canonici. While perusing that book, it became clear to me that the faith community from which it hails had prophetically identified the identity of the eschatological Antichrist in their fundamental Church Law, and this over a decade before it was manifested to the world. Naturally, the passage identifying the Beast is Canon 666 (cf. Revelation 13:18):

Can. 666 – In usu mediorum comunicationis servetur necessaria discretion atque vitentur quae sunt vocationi propriae nociva et castitati personae consecratae periculosa.

Which is, being interpreted,

Can. 666 – Let necessary discretion be observed in the use of communication media, and let those things be avoided which are harmful to one’s own vocation and dangerous to the chastity of a consecrated person.

So there we have the awe-inspiring truth: back in 1983, the Vatican wondrously foretold that to find the eschatological Antichrist, one would have to look no further than the Internet, and that the proof of this would lie in its well-known seedy underbelly.

Interestingly, it appears from the above text (which is located in that section of the Codex Iuris usually styled the “Common Law of Religious,” as opposed to each institute’s particular laws, i.e., their constitutions) that the Vatican believes the Internet/Antichrist to be more dangerous to professed religious than to anyone else; therefore, recalcitrant internet users from among their ranks should be especially careful.